INtroducing . . . Magdalena Ball and David Hough
By Penelope Jensen
Every issue, IN presents INside Authors, a look at authors from around the world who have significantly caught our attention and deserve a little space and recognition. Their writing genres vary, their styles, backgrounds and individual stories on how they achieved attention unique, and their attitude towards our industry is quite often amusing and always enlightening. Our hope is to provide a glimpse, a snapshot, an overview of some of the finest writers of our time making waves both tidal and ripple. The following two authors are this month's choices, based on the heat rising from their respective corners of the world.
Magdelena Ball, Fiction, Poetry, and Nonfiction
Background INfo: I'm Magdalena Ball, and I'm a writer (sounds like the opening to some kind of 12-step session). I run The Compulsive Reader, which I set up some five years ago to provide the kind of in-depth serious reviews you find in good review sources like the Observer or SMH, but online and for a mixture of books including small presses and new authors, primarily literary fiction, although we've been expanding consistently since the day I opened my cyber doors.
I've been writing for as long as I've been reading, which is roughly age four (I'm afraid that's rather a long time). In many ways reading and writing are flip sides of a coin to me, especially with things like reviews, where the process of writing reviews is almost like a second, more in-depth and more analytical reading. Although I had quite a few poems and stories published when I was at university in my late teens and early twenties, I took something of a break (it's perfectly reasonable to call this writer's block – the most insidious sort – where I stopped calling myself a writer) for nearly a decade while I submerged myself in a corporate role I haven't quite shaken, and didn't really begin writing professional again until I was pregnant with my first child, about ten years ago.
Three children later, my output is slow, but reasonably consistent. I've written a nonfiction book titled The Art Of Assessment, which I self-published as an eBook and which was picked up for print publication by Mountain Mist Productions. Last year my first chapbook of poetry titled Quark Soup, was published by Picaro Press, and of course first novel, Sleep Before Evening, is being published in July by BeWrite Books. I'm currently working on Novel #2, as well as writing poems and stories on occasion when I need a break from the big, bloodletting that writing a novel is, and nonfiction like reviews, articles, and even parenting pieces fairly regularly.
INfluences: I come from a reasonably artsy family, and grew up with almost a pressure to create. Even during my fallow period, my family never let up the pressure on me! My aunt, who was a fairly well-known writer Susan Gordon Lydon (she recently died of Cancer) would send me emails telling me she was expecting to see at least a few poems on the Australian bush (where I live – I was born and grew up in the US) and that it didn't matter whether or not I called myself a writer – I had no choice. My uncle is a reasonably famous composer (Ricky Ian Gordon), my other aunt paints, both of my parents are musicians, and there are singers, musicians, and English teachers or professors going way back into the generation of my great grandparents.
So I simply grew up with music, books, and art all around me. Not creating was almost a rebellion! So certainly my family has been an influence, and I always had the run of the bookshelves, music collections, and was treated with adult-like respect from the day I was able to put a sentence together whenever it came to talking about books, ideas, or the influence of art (I can remember plenty of early discussions around aesthetics at the dinner table).
In terms of professional writers, I have to admit, though it sounds a bit pompous, that whenever I have the slightest difficulty in writing, I can always open James Joyce and find something that sparks me off. He's a constant source of inspiration for me on what can be done with the English language. Other writers I take continual inspiration from include Peter Carey (a storytelling master), Julian Barnes (a master of clarity), and Umberto Eco (who always takes massive risks in his work, informing his writing from his massive intellectual genius). Woolf, Atwood, Yeats, Porter . . . there are many, many more. I'm really lucky that my reviewing work allows me to constantly come across great new writers and they all inspire me.
Advice: First and foremost, turn up. That may sound trite (and may be something akin to "keep on writing") but like any other art, craft, or skill, writers need to work at their craft. Inspiration hardly comes into it. If you aren't putting words on the paper (and believe me I know), you aren't growing as a writer, no matter how bright you may be and no matter how much potential. You just have to get to work – give yourself a real goal like pulling together a chapbook, writing a story for a particular deadline or competition, or even writing a novel, and then get on with it.
Secondly, a good writer is a good reader. It's instantly apparently to me as a manuscript assessor when a writer hasn't read much in the area in which they are writing. Being a good reader doesn't necessarily make you a good writer, but if you don't read, you won't have that all critical writer's ear, where you know what works and what doesn't, and you know what quality work sounds like. Good writers have to read a lot in whatever genre they want to work. It not only expands your vocabulary, it expands your sense of what you can and might be able to do with language. It's key.
Internet Presence: Although my website http://www.compulsivereader.com/ isn't specifically related to my creative writing work as such, what it has done for me is to build a following of like-minded readers. In other words, I have a ready market of ideal readers (because the site has been designed mostly to suit my own reading and writing tastes) who know me like a friend. In a way this is ideal, because people visit me because they share my enthusiasm, and therefore will very likely (I hope!) want to read the kind of book I write.
I have 7,000 subscribers to my monthly newsletter, and again, these are all heavy readers who will hopefully have similar tastes to me. I also use the site to sell books and, of course, network. I also write and publish on other sites quite a lot so I have a strong Google presence and think reasonably good name recognition. I live in a rural area of Australia, and my market without the Internet would be miniscule! Now it's huge, so I see the Internet as critical. I think in future that multimedia, eBooks, audio books, and network sites like MySpace and Book Place will be increasingly important (and interesting!) for writers and their careers.
The Future: Working on Novel #2 (working title: Black Cow) about a sea change and "the good life" – set in Double Bay Sydney and Tasmania, and I also want to pull together another (full-length this time) poetry book. Then there's that literary cookbook I want to finish up, a million more reviews, articles, and stories, and hopefully a few interesting collaborations on the way. I'm not great at saying no, so anything can happen!
Poetry Sleep Before Evening, BeWrite Books, July 2007 The Art of Assessment: How to Review Anything, Mountain Mist Productions, 2003 Quark Soup, Picaro Press, 2006 Loosen Your Belt: Global Delights: A feast of stories and poetry and recipes, Ethnic Communities Council and The Hunter Writer’s Centre, 2003
Background INfo: I am David Hough, a novelist of sixty-plus years. I grew up in the nineteen fifties in a home with no television, which is probably why I became a lover of books. As a schoolboy, I became an avid reader and my whole life has been spent surrounded by books. At the age of forty, I had a heart attack that put limitations on what I could do in my day-job as an air traffic controller. That was when I decided to learn to write to a publishable standard. I started by writing short romance stories purely as a learning exercise and then went on to tackle full-length gritty novels. The big publishing houses turned down those longer books, but I was lucky enough to be taken on by BeWrite Books who have now published three of my novels. They allocated me a marvellous editor Carole Spencer who taught me more about writing than any other single person.
INfluences: Two writers have influenced me more than any other. I have studied all of Daphne du Maurier’s books because of her skilful use of words. She used the written page to bring people and places to life in a way that I can only hope to emulate. In my first Cornish novel, The Vanson Curse, I tried to create a sense of time and place in a way I imagined du Maurier would have done. I was careful not to steal her words because her style of writing is dated, but I was influenced by her descriptive powers.
Nevil Shute was far less adept in his descriptive skills but he had a fine knack of creating fascinating stories. In particular, I loved the way Shute was able to embed a secondary story within the main plotline. In A Town Like Alice, he skilfully embedded the wartime story within the post-war plot of a young woman trying to create something better for the people of a small Australian community – a town like Alice Springs. He used a similar technique in other books, all of which I have read time and again. You will find me using that two-period technique in my book King’s Priory.
Advice: A while back I met a young woman who had never written a single line of prose with any commercial intent, but decided to write a novel as a way of making money. She joined our writer’s workshop in order that we would, "tell her how to do it." She would then go away and write her book. She was confident that it would be published and make money. She was most annoyed when I gently pointed out that the learning process could be lengthy with the possibility of a few failures along the way.
If you want to be a published writer, be quite sure what you are letting yourself in for. Neil Marr, the owner of BeWrite Books, once told me that for every thousand novels started, only one will be completed. For every thousand completed novels, only one will be published. And for every thousand published novels only one will make serious money. Having mixed with many writers over the years, I can see the kernel of truth in that statement. And it is an important truth. I would never try to put anyone off the idea of being a writer, but I think it is important that they should view their efforts in perspective.
If, like the young woman I quoted earlier, you think it is going to be a simple matter of writing your first novel and making a mint out of it, you may be disappointed. So, my advice is learn the trade and learn it well. You will never become an airline pilot or a surgeon by reading all about it and then doing it. You must go through a lengthy period of learning. The same applies to being a published novelist. Internet Presence: I have (http://www.dfjhough.co.uk/) designed for me by my younger son. Taking the Internet as a whole, I have found it invaluable when researching material for a story. I frequently advise writers who have no Internet connection to get along to their local library and discover for themselves just how useful a tool it can be. That is not to say that I decry reference books. I have a room full of written reference material within reaching distance of my computer, but no home library can ever be as complete as the Net.
The Future: I am currently working on an idea for a series of Cornish historical novels set in the Victorian period. I frequently visit Cornwall to keep an eye on my aged parents and use the opportunities to dig out research material. As I discover each new aspect of Victorian life, I find it leads me along fresh ideas for plot lines and characters. That’s where discipline comes in and I have to force myself to keep to a limited agenda that can be encompassed in each story.
Scent Of Spring, by Tracy Davis, Robert Hale, also in large print by Ulverscroft, 1989 Ride Upon The Storm, by Tracy Davis, Robert Hale, also in large print by Ulverscroft, 1990 A Tangle Of Roots, by David Hough, BeWrite Books, 2004 The Vanson Curse, by David Hough, BeWrite Books, 2006 King’s Priory by, David Hough, BeWrite Books, 2007 The Gamekeeper, by David Hough, Lachesis Publishing (Canada), 2007
Penelope Jensen considers herself a citizen of the world, aligning herself at this moment with the purposes of IN, where you'll find her writing articles and interviewing authors, among other things. You can reach Penny at: PenJen@inorbit.com.